Digital Equity Ecosystems

Digital Equity EcosystemsRecently, in our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University we have started a new research project to investigate what we are calling Digital Equity Ecosystems. This project builds on the excellent work of researchers and practitioners in the Digital Equity Lab at The New School, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Detroit Community Technology Project, and others. We define digital equity ecosystems as the following:

Digital Equity Ecosystems are interactions between individuals, populations, communities, and their larger sociotechnical environments that all play a role in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice.

Our research in this area seeks to understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and families without household internet access and how digital inclusion coalitions across the nation have responded in turn. The goal of the study is to provide data and evidence to help local, state, and federal policymakers in the U.S. develop more effective digital equity strategies nationwide.

Findings from the study will also be useful for key stakeholders working to promote economic and racial justice in communities struggling with poverty during COVID-19 and after the pandemic ends. This is because, as we know from scholars such as Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Chris Gilliard, Virginia Eubanks, and many others who have noted that, the digital divide is rooted in systemic injustices and structural inequalities in our society. Therefore, we are keenly focused on the social, rather than the technological, solutions to digital inequality. We believe that a social ecological approach using participatory methods rooted in community knowledge and expertise is the pathway forward in this approach.

The publication of the first phase of our research to be published in 2020 is supported by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

Research Cited in CSR Report

Congressional Research ServiceThe Congressional Research Service is a department within the Library of Congress that has been providing timely research to the U.S. Congress that is “objective, authoritative and confidential, thereby contributing to an informed national legislature,” since 1914.

I am honored to share the news that my research on Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption published by the Benton Foundation was featured in a April 6, 2020 report by the CSR, titled “State Broadband Initiatives: Selected State and Local Approaches as Potential Models for Federal Initiatives to Address the Digital Divide.”

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MLBN Explainer Video

Here is a fantastic video, produced by Carson and Jessikha Block, that provides an overview of our Measuring Library Broadband Networks (MLBN) project. It’s a wonderful description of our research, which is funded by a two-year grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (award #LG-71-18-0110-18). to learn more about our research, please visit our project website at http://slis.simmons.edu/blogs/mlbn/

New Article in Media, Culture & Society

Media, Culture & SocietySharon Strover, Brian Whitacre, Alexis Schrubbe and I have a new journal article in Media, Culture & Society. The article, titled “The Digital Inclusion Role of Rural Libraries: Social Inequities Through Space and Place” features findings from our two-year research grant (award #RE-31-16-0014-16), funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to examine how rural libraries address the challenges of Internet connectivity with hotspot lending programs.

Here’s a link to the abstract, which is also included below:

“A great deal of scholarship on broadband deployment and federal policies has positioned rural America through a deficit framework: rural parts of the country have older populations (and therefore not tech savvy), are poor (and therefore justifiably ignored by the market), too remote (therefore outside of legitimate profit-making enterprise), and losing population (and therefore significance). This research examines rural Internet connectivity through the lens of local libraries lending hotspots for Internet connectivity. Qualitative data gathered in 24 rural communities in Kansas and Maine undercut simplistic notions regarding how communication systems operate in environments ignored by normative market operations. Financial precarity and pressures from social and economic institutions compel rurally based individuals and families to assemble piecemeal Internet presence and connectivity. The public library plays a crucial role in providing Internet resources and stands out in the rural environment as a site that straddles public trust and local.”

New Paper Published in Lecture Notes in Computer Science

My colleagues, Chris Ritzo, Georgia Bullen, the late James Werle, and SLIS doctoral student, Alyson Gamble, and I have a new paper published in Lecture Notes in Computer Science. The paper, titled “Participatory Development of an Open Source Broadband Measurement Platform for Public Libraries” was published as part of the iConference 2019 Conference Proceedings.

Here is the abstract for our paper:

“Public libraries need access to reliable, automated, and longitudinal data on the speed and quality of service of their broadband Internet connections. Having such data at a local, granular level is essential for libraries to understand how their broadband infrastructure can meet their communities’ digital demands, as well as inform local, state, and national broadband planning efforts in the U.S. This paper contributes a participatory research methodology and an information system design proposal to investigate how public libraries can utilize broadband measurement tools to achieve these goals. The purpose of the research is to assist public libraries in gaining a better understanding of the relationship between their network infrastructure and digital services. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the expected findings from our project, which builds upon existing research that examined how broadband measurement tools can be utilized in public schools.”

To learn more about our research, please visit our project site.